Life Lessons – Being a Better Leader

October 3, 2021

About 10 days ago I had eye surgery.  Medically I had  a DMEK procedure.  In terms I understand I had a partial cornea transplant.  It all started about 5 months ago when I had what was supposed to be routine cataract eye surgery.  Turned out to be not so routine.  The day after the cataract surgery, when the doctor removed the bandage over my eye my vison was quite blurry.  I knew from this and the surgeon’s reaction this wasn’t quite the plan.  I knew before the surgery of a genetic cornea condition I have, but really didn’t think it would impact my cataract surgery.    The surgeon explained that sometimes this blurriness  could clear up in a few weeks or months, but we just needed to give it some time. 

After a few months of no improvement,  I decided it was time for a second and eventually a third opinion.  In the last 5 months, I have seen no less than 5 eye surgeons and have been to about  25 eye appointments (examinations, procedures, pre-surgery, follow up, etc.).  My wife, employer, folks I work with, and friends have been incredibly patient and supportive during this time. 

Initially, after the cataract surgery I asked the logical question:  WHY?  WHY ME?  Within two weeks of that my “focus” (pun intended) changed.  I started  to ask:  WHAT?   What was I supposed to do with this? What was I supposed to learn from this experience?  What impact might this have on others? 

Now, five months later I think I finally have some answers to some of my questions.  I have learned a lot about myself and others in these five months.  During this time, I have been given a new outlook on certain things. 

First off, it has helped me to grow my patience.  I am the type who likes everything to be resolved quickly and efficiently.  This “test” was nothing like that.  The time it has taken, the inconvenience of blurred vision for 5+ months has tested my patience over and over again.  I believe it has given me some improved skills in the patience department.  I can now put things in better perspective and understand everything does not have to be “right now” and sometimes time is better spent on other things.

I also learned the importance of “recruiting the best”.  I had a great surgeon, but when I felt uncomfortable, I knew it was important to get other expert opinions.  The good thing is I was directed to some great eye surgeons, who even referred me to others who possessed even more expertise than they had.  The importance of recruiting and selecting the best was of ultimate importance.  Surrounding myself with experts was critical to success.

I learned to listen better.  No really listen.  I sat at appointments and took in everything the doctors said.  I stopped trying to respond automatically and just learned  to sit there and listen to what they thought and what the latest exam had shown them.

While I am no medical expert by any means, I quickly learned to be open and receptive to researching and listening to varied ideas about how to treat my condition.  I went “prepared” to doctor’s appointment with my questions written out.  I evaluated  what they all said, so that I could make the next decision about my treatment. 

As I sat in waiting rooms on numerous occasions, I met others who had conditions much worse than mine.  Some who had been told there was really nothing that could be done to restore their vison and slow down the vision loss they were experiencing.  I became more compassionate and  now have more empathy for others.  Folks that were complete strangers became people that I now  wonder about.  What was their outcome?  How are they doing? 

I quickly changed my attitude about what I was going through.  When my focus shifted from WHY to WHAT,  I knew I could better handle whatever was going to be in front of me.  I knew by the support of my wife,  friends and family I could handle anything that happened.  The attitude shift put me at ease to push forward.

I usually write about leadership and leaders.  So, leaders take heed.  If  you go back and read this again you will see some key points for leaders, but really for everyone.  If I had to put that in a Leadership Summary it would be:

  1.  Always recruit and select the best.  For your team,  for your friendships, for your life.  They will be there to lean on, learn from, and support you when you need them the most.
  •  Listen better.  Really listen to what others are saying.   Don’t always plan your response.  Take the time to really hear what is being said  — even the things you really don’t want to hear.
  • Surround yourself with experts.  They are all around you.  Take the time to truly evaluate what they are offering to make your job and life easier.  Don’t be afraid to let them know you don’t have all the answers and be ready to ask them for their help.
  • Compassion and empathy.  Work on these daily.  Everywhere you go.  None of us really know what others are going through and all too often we are not as “bad off” as we think we are (especially when we hear other stories).
  • Attitude.  Your attitude is half the battle.  Hone the right attitude and let others see that.  It will make your day and their day better.

So, to wrap this up  – my vision is getting better each day.  Still some blurriness,  but I am confident and optimistic that in time my vision will be better than ever.  I know that day is just around the corner.  My next step is to write a letter to my donor’s family.  I want them to know how their loved one has helped me to regain my sight, but more  importantly be able to see life through a different “lens”. 

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